Written by AAIram Siddique
Indian Railways is gearing up to transform its coaches into quarantine facilities to help state governments in containing the spread of novel coronavirus, officials said. They are looking at turning existing coaches into wards where patients who need to be quarantined can be placed with food and medical facilities being provided within the coach.
Under the plan that is being contemplated, entire trains would be converted to act as holding centres for patients as well as paramedical staff who will be treating them. While the exact design is yet to be finalised, officials have been asked to take necessary measures to identify locations in their respective divisions where coaches can be parked and make sure that adequate arrangements are made to ensure electricity supply to these coaches for a longer duration.
A senior official from Western Railway (WR) said, “We have identified all locations in the division where a coach can be charged to ensure uninterrupted source of power.” Apart from this, a stock of all pantry cars available with the railway is also being done to convert them into a mobile kitchen for providing food to those who will be quarantined. According to officials, while trains placed at stations such as Mumbai Central and Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) will have access to a base kitchen, coaches will be placed at other odd locations, which will require pantry facilities. “We are also speaking to health experts to understand what all is required, and are weighing the pros and cons. We are checking the stock of our pantry car to ensure that if someone has to be kept in quarantine or isolation, they are provided with a meal…We want to assist the government in all possible ways and are working towards it,” said Chairman of Railway Board, V K Yadav.
In one of the designs proposed, a Link Hoffman Bush (LHB) coach, which has about nine lobbies, with each lobby having six berths, can be used as one unit to place one person. Similarly, there will be at least nine such compartments created in one coach to place a person under quarantine who can be provided with regular food and medical supply.
Earlier, an idea was floated for converting coaches into isolation units with two people in one coach having access to one toilet each on either ends. This would lead to creating at least 10,000 isolation wards using 20,000 coaches with the railways. To facilitate this, railways have also started movement of its rakes that were stuck in other zones when the passenger train operations were stalled from midnight of March 22. A total of 637 rakes across Indian from various zones were stuck in 17 different zones are now being returned to their home zones for enhances maintenance.
The WR, which owns about a total of 52 rakes, had 42 of these rakes in different zones across India. Similarly, Central Railway (CR), which has 175 rakes, had about 56 which were in different zones. These trains have begun movement to reach back to parent coaches. Once these coaches are back, they will be disinfected and kept ready for being used as quarantine facilities. “We are not looking at any physical modification to the coaches as of now,” said another official from CR.
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